Monday, April 2, 2012

Are you a writer or a storyteller?


a person who tells or writes stories or anecdotes.
a person who tells more or less trivial falsehoods; fibber.
Origin: 1700–10; story1 + teller 1

1. writ·er/ˈrītər/
1. A person who has written a particular text.
2. A person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation.

Ask most writers what they do, and they’ll say, “I’m a writer” (or novelist to be even more specific, or Fantasy/SF novelist to really narrow things down). But how many say, “I’m a storyteller”? To be fair, most people don’t call writers story tellers, and the term is fair vaguer than writer.

But it could be argued, that not all writers ARE storytellers as well. There seem to be many definitions of the two terms. Some believe that it’s more a reflection of the style of writing: storytellers get everything out in one giant lump, whereas writers do it piecemeal and re-write the story into being.

I have a few issues with that concept. One-the writers (term will be used to save my sanity) who “get everything out in one giant lump” still most likely are going back and doing a hell of a lot of re-writing. If they aren’t, and they are selling books like hotcakes, I want their secret!

Two- even folks who feel their strength is in re-writing still had some vague idea in mind when they did their rough draft, no matter how down and dirty that draft may be.

Then there is Donald Maass *cue angels singing here*; he views writer verses storyteller based on goal, rather than stylistic choices.

His view is that a writer is in it to make money, whereas the storyteller is in it to ….tell their story. The goal of the storyteller is to get across the wonderful ideas, places, and characters in their head for other folks to hopefully read. While publication would be nice, it’s not the driving goal of a storyteller. The writer however, is in it to be published. Bottom line, if you told both groups you will never be published, the storytellers would be bummed, but keep writing.

The “writers” would quit.

I can see where Maass is coming from, but not sure if I agree. My problem is using a common term used by all writers to address a small subset of them. I would argue that perhaps a unique term should be crafted for them that doesn’t confuse matters by using an already very generalized term.

But I agree with his idea.

There are writers out there for whom being published is the end all be all. And yes, if told by a crystal ball wielding gypsy they would never be published, they would walk away right now. It’s not even money (we all know there won’t be much-LOL), it’s that they see no other reason to write if not for others to read.

These folks may have lost the joy they feel at the creation process itself (or may never have had it). Or they feel that even though they enjoy it, friends, relatives, total strangers they happen to engage in casual conversation, will view them as a failure for writing just for themselves. No publication, no validation.

Now some folks say, "but character is far more important than story! I must not be a storyteller if I focus on character". Character is VITAL, but if they aren’t doing something interesting, plausible, and exciting- folks aren’t going to care.

Therefore, I’d argue that even character first writers could be storytellers.

If we use Maass’s concept, it’s easy to tell which you are (if you’re honest with yourself)- sink into the dark hole of doubt- tell yourself you’ll NEVER be published.

Still wanna write? If so, you’re a storyteller, and sorry, there’s no cure. If you honestly say no, you’re one of his “writers”. (Now banish that dark hole and get back out there!)

What about you? How do you see writer verse storyteller? How do you think of yourself based on that?


  1. Storyteller. Most definitely. I mean, I love sharing my work, and I want to be published so that I can, but I can't stop and I don't want to be cured, either. :) Great post!

  2. Thanks for coming by and commenting L.S. :). I know about not wanting to be cured- we've got a sickness, but it's a good sickness :).

    Keep on writing!

  3. Thanks Thinkum! Good to "see" you :)

  4. I've always been in the storyteller heap. I have always thought the difference was that a "writer" could write non-fiction about anything they were hired to write... (Journalists I think of as writers, etc.)

    I think most fiction writers are storytellers because we write to get the stories out even if we may never sell the story...

    Great blog Marie!

    Lisa :)

  5. I think of a storyteller, first and foremost, as someone who talks--actually tells a story. A storyteller in that sense need not be making the story up; they can be recounting an age-old tale, but in an entertaining way. I think of first hearing the classic Korean tale "Song of the Dragons Flying to Heaven" recited from memory by an old man who was the village storyteller. Of course, they can also be making it up as they go or it can be an original story that they have told many times. The grandfather in "The Princess Bride" is a storyteller. Homer was a storyteller (probably a story-singer in those days).

    But when I write a paranormal romance, do I think of myself as a storyteller? Usually not. I think of myself as a writer, because my stories are intended to be read silently by a lone reader. Now, of course, it would probably not detract from the story if it were read aloud to an audience by a competent reader, but that is not the primary intent. The words are meant to be heard by the inner voice of the reader. Some are chosen specifically to make the reader go "hummm...." when they read, to stop, ponder, perhaps reread, and then go on. This is not storytelling. It is writing.

  6. That's a very interesting take Linda :). I think some folks would argue that writers are storytellers as well, but bringing in the verbal aspect of storytelling is an interesting point as well.

    Thanks for coming by!

  7. I've been a storyteller all my life. Started out with little fibs when I could talk and matriculated to breaking the 9th Commandment in short order. Now, I'm almost 70 and decided to start writing them down. Easier to keep track of that way...

    1. LOL!!! I like that Jack, a storyteller and a rebel- good thing you're writing them down :).

      Thanks for coming by my blog and commenting!

      Marie Andreas- coming in as ANONYMOUS since I'm at work and can't sign into blogger :)